Autumn is approaching, and I find myself anticipating the transformation of the landscape that autumn brings. The shifting of green to gold and orange, and finally to rich brown; the gradual revelation of line and pattern as tree limbs lose their leaves; the softening of the light and the lengthening of shadows in the late afternoon. For a designer and gardener such as me, autumn offers many delights to savor.
Changes in the seasons have a way of heightening our awareness of the surrounding environment. And a good thing they do. If we pay attention and read the signs, we can prepare for the challenges ahead. In business, it's important to pay attention to the changes going on around us as well, lest we be lulled into the illusion that tomorrow will be the same as today. Unfortunately, changes in the business climate and the economic landscape are not so predictable or easy to read. That's why I include environmental scanning as part of my ongoing information gathering.
For those of you who may be new to environmental scanning, let me clarify that it is not the latest "green" design technique. Rather, it is a method for checking out what is going on in the world around us and identifying those developments that may have an impact on us in the near future. Since our lives and businesses—and those of our clients—may be affected by changes in any and all areas of endeavor, not just within the realm of building and design, environmental scanning covers a number of "spheres of influence." These include politics and government, the economy, societal and social behaviors, biology, medicine and technology. This may seem overwhelming, but the trick to scanning is to identify the long-term trends that will have lasting impact and to ignore the incidental news and fads that often garner a lot of attention, but quickly pass away.
Once you have performed your scanning, review each trend through the lens of how it might apply to design or how design could be applied to it. This can be an illuminating exercise. You begin to appreciate design as a problem-solving methodology—one that can be applied in many spheres. In doing so, you also begin to appreciate the value of design, and you gain a better understanding of how you can communicate that value to clients and potential clients.
For example, think of all the new technologies being introduced into the home. How are they to be integrated so that they are functional and accessible, but not intrusive? This is a design problem. Or what of the increasing concern about security, in both the home and in the workplace? Security technologies are only a partial solution. The environment needs to feel secure yet welcoming, and that requires a design solution. I could cite many more examples of trends that raise design issues: the aging of the population, increased cultural diversity, the blurring of home life and work life, protection of privacy. No doubt others come to mind.
The present makes many demands on us, but we ignore the future at our own peril. If we are to continue performing beyond our clients' expectations, we must be aware of emerging trends and prepare for them. We cannot rely on today's solutions to address tomorrow's problems. The smart designer takes the time to scan the environment and read the signs of change, and to ensure that his or her toolkit is properly stocked for the journey ahead.
ASID national president H. Don Bowden is founder of his own firm, H. Don Bowden-Architect, in Mobile, AL. ASID can be reached at (202) 546-3580; fax: (202) 546-3240; www.asid.org